Guest Column

September 15, 2013

Colleges key to economic development

Last week, Washington Monthly magazine, one of the most credible publications of its kind in the country, named Clinton Community College (CCC) among the top 50 community colleges in the United States and SUNY Plattsburgh (PSU) among the top 30 colleges in the country.

Washington Monthly ranked CCC based on their evaluation in eight categories including academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, first-year retention rate and three-year graduation-transfer rate.

The magazine ranked PSU as offering its students the “Best Bang for the Buck,” which I suspect is a highly technical term used in higher education that means highest value to cost.

The Washington Monthly announcement is timely given that, on Sept. 26, Clinton Community College will host a presentation and panel discussion on Colleges and Universities as Economic Drivers. In other words, what role do colleges and universities play in growing a region’s economy?

It’s a relevant topic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes colleges and universities play such a significant economic-development role that he created Start Up New York (formerly “Tax Free New York”). Start Up New York is a program that “utilizes private partnerships with New York’s higher education system to create jobs and spur economic development in areas of the state that have been depressed for decades.”

What is an economic driver? Simply put, an economic driver is “any industry that stimulates economic growth and creates spin-off jobs in a region.”

In today’s economy, it’s undeniable that colleges and universities are enormous economic drivers, but it wasn’t always so.

Historically, economic impact has never been a principal mission of colleges and universities. Originally, the role of a university was “to stimulate a life of the mind apart from the necessities of making a living.” Unfortunately, some educators still believe that colleges and universities exist only for “education for education’s sake” and don’t believe that their role is to prepare students for careers.

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